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Plan to Fund Youth Penal Camps Assailed


Thousands of substance abusers would be unable to receive treatment for their dependencies under a proposal by Los Angeles County that would take nearly $12 million from drug and alcohol programs to keep the county's 19 juvenile probation camps open, critics of the move said Friday.

The funding shift, one of several strategies being considered as a way to keep the camps open beyond July 1, could force many of the 200 treatment, education and prevention programs to shut down, said Al Jeffries, executive director of the Van Nuys office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

"This is one of those ideas where you rob Peter to pay Paul," said Jeffries, whose agency provides such services to about 15,000 people annually in the San Fernando Valley. "It just seems like there's got to be a better way."

The county's probation camps annually provide about 4,500 juveniles convicted of offenses ranging from shoplifting to rape and assault with a structured alternative to unsupervised probation or the California Youth Authority.

But the county, facing a $1.5-billion budget shortfall, needs to find $60 million if it is to keep the camps open past the end of the fiscal year.

The County Board of Supervisors had earlier instructed its staff to work with state officials to find the money for the camps.

The response, made public by critics Friday, was a proposal sent to state officials April 22 that would use state and federal drug and alcohol money to keep the camps operating by setting up residential treatment programs for the juvenile offenders at the camps.

County budget officials were not available Friday to comment on the issue.

But critics said those plans would come in addition to proposed state budget cuts in alcohol and drug funds and would have a catastrophic effect on many local programs, including those that provide methadone treatment, alcohol outpatient counseling and alcohol and drug inpatient treatment.

"The real issue is whether or not many programs would continue to exist," said Larry Gentile, president and chief executive officer of Behavioral Health Services of Gardena. Gentile's company operates one of only two alcohol detoxification programs in the county.

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